Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Break Means Break - That Means No Homework

On Winter Break - or Fall Break and Spring Break for that matter - I do not give my students homework.  That means nothing, zilcho, zip.  It is called "break" for a reason, and I do not feel the overwhelming need to burden the kids with busy work during the holidays.  This puts me in a minority among teachers, but I can't quite figure out why.

This year it has been easier to make that work for teachers. Traditionally, in my district we break for winter two weeks before the end of first semester and final exams, and many students claim they spend the entire break studying for final exams.  Now, I don't believe that at all, but I do sympathize with kids who have an extra book to read or a final review packet to complete or pages of calculations or research papers to complete.  There should be enough time during the normal thirty six weeks of school for teachers to accomplish all they need to accomplish.  If not, they are probably erring on the side of forcing too much "content" into their lessons. This year, however, was the first year that we took final exams before Winter Break. It noticeably created a greater degree of stress, for students were used to a couple weeks off before exams to study, and teachers seemed to have more time for first semester units. Yet, when all was said and done, it seems like most are happy to just "take a break." And, teachers have been encouraged to not assign any work during the break.

The issue of content is a contentious one, as teachers revere their content and can't imagine their students missing out on one fact or name or equation or definition or connection.  But this point of view too easily veers into rote memorization of trivial content or, worse, busy work.  As an English teacher and supporter of core knowledge approaches, I completely support the intention to build within students a vast store of background knowledge which they can and must use to access new information.  But nothing is so serious or monumental that it can't be accomplished during the standard schedule.  There is nothing wrong with students continuing to read and learn during time off school.  But that's a long way from believing that the extra "vacation packet" is going to solve the ills of gaps in student knowledge.

So, this break, take a break.

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